The emphasis behind this law was that the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) stated that domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among women in several California cities. In support of this statement, they provided the following factoids: (1) women living in rental housing are victimized at a rate more than three times the rate of women living in owned housing, a statistic that is especially significant given the number of Californians who are renters; (2) advocates and victims consistently report that housing issues cause victims to stay in or return to the abusive relationship; (3) for victims of domestic violence, relocation is often essential to the victim's sense of security and emotional wellbeing, as many of these victims are assaulted at or near their homes; and (4) the California Apartment Association has issued a policy statement encouraging the Legislature to explore options to help victims and apartment owners to address domestic violence, and has stated that policies such as early lease terminations should be explored.
The law requires that the victim present to the landlord, within 180 days of obtaining the same, a notice of termination accompanied by either (1) a copy of a police report evidencing that domestic violence has occurred; or (2) a copy of a Temporary Restraining Order; or (3) a copy of an Emergency Protective Order. By terminating the tenancy by alleging that the tenant is a victim of domestic violence pursuant to this new law, the tenant has a bona fide defense to any action subsequently brought by the landlord for breach of the lease agreement. Once that notice has been delivered to the landlord, the tenant is freed of the obligation to pay rent thirty days thereafter. The tenant must pay, however, for rent as prescribed in the lease agreement for the thirty days following the notice irrespective of whether the tenant actually occupies the premises during that time period. If the landlord re-rents the premises to another tenant in that time frame, however, the amount of rent that would be payable by the victim of domestic violence would be prorated.
Potential for Abuse
Although the statute is geared toward protecting those victims of domestic violence who wish to flee their abusers by vacating a joint living situation, the statute is drafted quite poorly and is ripe for abuse. For example, there is no requirement in the statute that the domestic violence occur at the leased premises, or even that the alleged abuser is a joint occupant with the victim of domestic violence at the leased premises. So, as a hypothetical under the statute, if a party was a victim of domestic violence in a nightclub, he or she could potentially terminate an unwanted tenancy if the statutory requirements are met, notwithstanding that the victim does not live with the abuser and the domestic violence did not occur within the leased premises. Further, the statute does not provide the required contents of a police report that alleges that domestic violence occurred. It does not state whether the veracity of the police report can even be considered by the landlord. So, for example, if a person files a false or misleading police report alleging domestic violence, he or she can use that report to terminate a tenancy. Whether or not criminal charges are eventually filed, or whether nothing happens further as far as an investigation is concerned is of no consequence. The fact that a police report exists is enough under the statute. Finally, and most importantly, the statute does not specifically state that it is not intended to apply to commercial leases. So, for example, Joe has a commercial lease at $3.99 a square foot for a term of fifteen years. The market sours and the going rate for commercial lease space decreases to $1.50 a square foot. Joe is also subsequently a victim of domestic violence, or, at least qualifies for relief under Civil Code Section 1946.7. Joe serves a notice to his landlord that he desires to terminate the tenancy pursuant to Civil Code Section 1946.7. Joe then re-lets another commercial space at $1.50, saving thousands of dollars.
The information and opinions expressed above are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice, or to establish an attorney/client relationship. If you are involved in a Family Law matter, you should seek competent counsel.
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